Traipsing around sunny Spain

Granada’s piece de resistance is definitely the Alhambra – the magnificent fortress was the last stronghold of the Moors before they were crushed in 1492 by the Christian Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel. There was so much to see since the fortress is composed of many complexes. First, we went to see Charles V’s Palace which had a unique layout of a circle within a square. Then, we went up the Alcazaba Fort that overlooked the city and the mountains beyond. This was the original and therefore oldest part of the citadel where the flags of the conquering Christians were raised. And finally, we meandered through best part of the complex: the Palacios Nazaries which was made up of numerous rooms, the Patio de los Arrayanes with its lovely reflecting pool, the Hall of the Ambassadors where the Sultan received his VIPs, and the Patio de los Leones with its sublime slender columns supporting graceful arches plus the 12 lions in the courtyard – arguably the most recognizable part of the Alhambra seen in many postcards and travel magazines.

The Albaicin district clings on a hillside opposite the Alhambra and this is where you can appreciate the fortress in all its glory. Amidst the cobblestone alleys stand lovely Moorish villas surrounded by wide gardens. A quick visit to the Royal Chapel where Ferdinand and Isabel are buried rounded up our brief stay in this city steeped in so much history.

Next stop: Valencia. Two things brought us here – the Virgin of the Helpless and Santiago Calatrava. Both didn’t disappoint. The Virgen de los Desamparados, Valencia’s patroness stands high above an altar located in its own basilica, ornately dressed and lavishly adorned with flowers. In March, she is honored with Spain’s most spectacular fiesta – Las Fallas where giant paper-mache effigies are burned with lots fireworks.

Calatrava’s buildings are located in the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, a mind-blowing complex of structures housing an Imax theater that looks like an eye, a helmet-shaped palace for the arts, a dinosaur skeleton-like science museum and the Oceanografic – Europe’s biggest marine park, home to 500 species of fish and other sea creatures from every ocean of the world. We spent one whole day there which wasn’t enough because you probably need a week to do the place!

Gaudi, Dali and Miro – they all made Barcelona their home and this Catalan metropolis oozes art from every corner. Even the mimes are the most artistic that I’ve seen in the whole of Europe. We started our walk from the top of the two kilometer long tree-lined grand boulevard called Las Ramblas where the whole panoply of Barcelonian life happens. We passed by La Boqueira, a lively market where eating in one of the stalls is an adventure in itself. Fancy a ham sandwich? Take your pick from dozens ranging from jamon serrano to Iberica de Bellota – the best and most expensive. How about bull testicles? They’re cheap and, well, delicious they said.  Though we backed out at the last minute! Seafood, exotic fruits, live snails, olives, the whole shebang was there for the tasting.

No visit to Barcelona would be complete without seeing the Sagrada de Familia, Gaudi’s Neo-Gothic church masterpiece that is still in the making, 126 years since it began. On a lesser but no less important architectural scale are La Pedrera, an apartment with curvilinear walls and anthropomorphic chimneys, Casa Batllo that looks like an organic skeleton of a house and Parc Guell, a 30-acre park with organic forms finished with bright mosaic tiles. All these represented a variant of Art Noveau design that swept Europe by storm early in the 19th century.

Exhausted and drowsy but feeling warmly satiated, we boarded the night train back to Paris thinking that one day, we had to come back to Spain once again in order to savor its vaguely familiar yet quite strange mix of tradition, people and culture. During the two weeks that we were there, we barely scratched the surface. Viva Espana!

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